'Brave' performances right, message wrong

Reeling It In

Posted: Thursday, September 20, 2007

"The Brave One"

Warner Bros.

2 hours, 2 minutes

Violence in movies is a tricky thing. Having grown up in a culture that embraces violence, especially righteous, justified violence, we tend to let it pass, either without a second thought, or, more often, with a thrill of excitement. Maybe it's because, as Americans, we've been pretty sheltered in that regard.

Sure we've had our tragedies, but in Europe and elsewhere around the world, casual violence isn't just on the screen, it's in the streets, and they've had a thousand extra years of history to rack it up. Abroad, the social concern is flipped. Explicit sexuality often garners a yawn, where the violence we so crave is viewed with shock and disgust.

It's a little creepy to think about it, that Americans as moviegoers have such a bloodlust, and nothing brought it home so starkly as the audience reaction to this week's dark, disturbing and brilliantly done Jodie Foster revenge thriller, "The Brave One."

I can't blame my fellow moviegoers completely, as the film is one that frequently catches you off-guard. This tale isn't one that necessarily leads to a twist or surprise, rather it's more like a descent, going from right and wrong, to shades of gray, and finally to blackness. Jodie Foster plays Erica Bain, a public radio dee-jay whose soft, even voice relates tales of New York City streets to an appreciative public and reveals shades of the happy, confident woman behind the microphone.

This character is sadly short-lived however.

One evening, while out walking the dog with her fiance David (Naveen Andrews, who plays Sayid from "Lost"), the happy couple is brutally attacked and beaten. David is dead, and Erica awakes from her coma a different person a frightened, shattered soul, too afraid, even, to leave her apartment. Time progresses and she is able to go out, but the fear doesn't subside.

She manages to buy a gun from a punk in an alley, and it does seem to calm her a bit. And then, by chance, she is present for another scene of violence, this time a domestic shooting in a convenience store. Erica, however, is no longer a helpless victim. She shoots in self-defense, but it's just a first step on a strange and irrevocable path as the woman Erica was slowly disappears, and, in the words of her inner monologue, a stranger takers her place.

The film, superbly crafted by veteran director Neil Jordan, takes a hard look at the idea of vigilante violence, from the thrill of feeling justified and empowered, to the inevitable misuse of that power.

Jodie Foster, who is likely the best actress of her generation, plays Erica Bain with a beautiful mix of fragility and nervous energy, making us believe that anyone could do the things she does, given the right stimuli. Terrence Howard, as the investigating detective, is also very good, playing well the sad realization that his police work is leading him not toward some nutcase man, but possibly toward his new friend. Jordan and his excellent cast weave an engaging plot together with a great mix of suspenseful drama and social relevance.

"The Brave One" becomes somewhat problematic at the end, but it's hard for me to tell whether my discomfort was the fault of the film or of the audience watching. Without giving away too much, I was disturbed at the way everything resolves itself into a neat little package.

Jordan's point about vigilante justice is made, but I think maybe too subtly for the mainstream, whose reaction felt completely out of place. Even the title is somewhat inappropriate though producers ultimately decided to retain the original screenplay's moniker, Jodie Foster has expressed her displeasure with it, suggesting that having and using a gun does not make one brave.

I have a feeling that the star, who has had her share of experience with violence (John Hinkley claimed his assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan was out of his love for Foster) would be similarly disappointed with the audience reaction to this film. It's strange to say, but Kevin Bacon's gore-filled, gratuitously violent "Death Sentence," though a lesser film in almost every way, nails its conclusion with perhaps a more proper mood, leaving the theatergoers either speechless or muttering "Oh God ..." rather than with applause and cheers.

"The Brave One" is a bleak, thought-provoking film, and it does a disservice to the film and ourselves to view it as a good ol' fashioned shoot 'em up. If that's what you're looking for, "3:10 to Yuma" is showing not far away. "The Brave One" actually has something to say about the dangers of using violence to solve our problems, and we'd do well to listen. Grade: B+

"The Brave One" is rated R for language, brief nudity and sexuality, and graphic, disturbing violence.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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